In August 2017, a presenter at a résumé workshop told Naheed Davis he wouldn’t hire her.
He had experience across the private sector, including in accounting — the field Davis was pursuing at Weber State — which is why Davis sought his advice.
“What has been your experience since you work with huge corporations — have you worked with anybody that has a visual disability?” Davis remembers asking him.
“I have never had to work with someone like that,” Davis recalled him saying. “But I wouldn’t hire you.”
Davis pressed on, explaining to him how she used technology to do well in her courses with only partial vision.
His response was the same.
“Yeah, I still wouldn’t hire you,” he responded. “And I really doubt any accounting firm would hire you.”
“Right then, I was so sad and so discouraged,” Davis said. “I’m doing this whole education thing for nothing, because no one’s going to hire me anyway.”
Fast forward a year and a half, and Davis — who graduates with an accounting degree from Weber State Friday — has two internships under her belt and a job offer from the Department of Defense in hand, pending her background check.
This achievement has been a long time coming — Davis graduated from high school in 2003 — and discriminatory hiring practices are not the only challenge she has faced.
Davis started college right after high school, and she gave birth to two children, a son and a daughter, during her first two years of school. She returned to her courses one week after she had a C-section with her first child during her freshman year.
“Luckily though, I did have my parents support,” Davis said, “so I never had to worry ‘where am I going to leave my kid?’”
When she first started college, Davis could see. By the end of her second year, she was struggling to see the board because of a degenerative eye condition. Not aware of disability accommodations, she didn’t share the challenge with her professors.
“I was too embarrassed to tell anybody because I’m like ‘what are people going to think of me?’” Davis said. “So I kept it this big secret.”
She managed well enough until she reached a business statistics class where much of the instruction happened on the board. She took the course three times and was unable to pass.
This lowered her GPA to the point that she lost her financial aid and was forced to stop attending classes.
Davis got a customer service phone job that allowed her flexibility to be with her children. She stayed at the job for eight years, and by the end she hadn’t advanced or received a raise.
She hesitated to apply for other jobs because of her vision, which kept getting worse and worse.
“I just felt like, ‘I could do better with my life’” Davis said. “I want a job where I can go to work and be happy.”
She also wanted to be in a better position to provide for her children without relying on her parents.
But she wouldn’t have returned to school if she hadn’t run into someone from the National Federation of the Blind. This person invited to her a gathering at Rooster’s in Ogden, and she decided to take a chance and attend.
“These people could relate to me,” Davis said. “I was like, ‘OK, I guess I’m not the only one.’”
The woman sitting next to her at the gathering pointed her to the Utah Division of Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired, where Davis embarked on a nine-month program to help her learn skills like reading braille and using a cane.
Students in the program who still had partial vision were blindfolded as they learned these new skills, to prepare them if they eventually lost their vision entirely.
In one challenging project, Davis was dropped somewhere in the middle of Salt Lake and had to find her way back to the center.
In another, she made a cutting board in a woodshop course with power tools. The class worked in total darkness so students with some vision couldn’t cheat, she said.
“(The cutting board) is something that I’m really proud of,” she said, “because I was so terrified to do the woodshop class, but I did it.”
After completing her nine-month program, Davis returned to Weber State. She explained in a petition to the financial aid office how her vision had led to low grades and the loss of her financial aid. They approved her to petition, and she was able to receive financial aid again.
Since returning to Weber State, Davis has excelled. The school’s disabilities services office has supported her with notetakers and screen readers that have made coursework more manageable.
Her goal was to get grades in the A range, and no Cs. She says for the most part, she reached that goal.
Davis also met Brad Mortensen, who is now the university president, at an alumni event, where she shared her concerns with him about succeeding in the workplace.
Mortensen connected her to two internships, one in the Weber State’s Office of University Advancement, where he worked as a vice president at the time, and another with the budget director for Utah, Kristen Cox, who is also blind.
Davis interned with Cox during the March 2019 legislative session, completing projects using Excel spreadsheets and learning about the legislative process.
She said she was unsure of her performance, but “according to them, I did well.”
Davis also thinks the experience helped her land the job with the Department of Defense, since one of her interview questions was about the government budget process.
Her accounting professors at Weber State also rallied around her. She met with two of them in 2018, right before the fall semester, and told them that she thought she couldn’t get hired — she was worried other people in the workplace would not think she was capable.
“I would hire you in an instant,” one of the professors told her. Knowing her professors believed her boosted her confidence.
“I love Weber,” Davis said. “I wouldn’t be where I was without the professors and faculty here, like Brad.”
Davis will also be the first in her family to earn a bachelor’s degree.
“I know they’re really proud of me,” Davis said, talking about her parents, who brought her to the U.S when they emigrated from Guatemala. “They always knew I could achieve what I wanted.”
But Davis said the main reason for her success in school is her kids.
“They’re my ‘why,’” she said.